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Six Tips for Gardening in Dry Weather

Even short periods of hot, dry summer weather can stress plants. When it’s hot out, water evaporates quickly from the soil, and if you’re not getting rain, you’ll need to water properly. Here are six tips to keep your plants healthy when the weather is dry. Keep soil moist with mulch. Mulch minimizes evaporation from the soil, so the water stays where you want it—at the roots of the plant. Mulch provides a bonus for your garden: it keeps down the weeds. Mulch can be made of bark, wood, chopped leaves or compost. You can make your own compost with worms. Even without worms, it’s easy to make compost in your yard or inside your house. You can also buy high quality compost from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm. Spread mulch around your garden plants, shrubs and trees. Apply the mulch three or four inches deep. With trees, make sure you keep the mulch two or three inches away from the tree trunk. Some people think it’s pretty to have the mulch heaped up against the trunk in a cone shape, but that’s actually bad for the tree! Water deeply, not often. Instead of giving all of your plants a tiny sip of water every day, it’s better to give a few plants a thorough soaking one day, then soak a few more plants the next day. The point is to get water to the roots of the plant where it is needed. If you have a few inches of mulch …

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Why You Should Plant Perennials Throughout Summer

Gardeners in areas with cold winters can’t wait until spring—that’s time for planting. But surprise! That’s not the only time you can plant. You can continue planting perennials throughout the summer—and you should! Perennials are plants that come back each year. They’re great for your garden because you don’t have to buy them every year like you do for annuals. So why not just buy some perennials in spring and be done? Here are six reasons to keep shopping for perennials throughout the growing season: You won’t miss out on variety. If you shop only in spring, you may buy perennials that catch your eye because they’re already flowering. When you plant them, you’ll have a lovely spring garden, but what happens when your irises and roses are done blooming? If you shop every few weeks, you’ll see what’s blooming then. Buy something each time you stop in and you can make sure you have blooms in your garden throughout the entire growing season. You can spread out the work. So many gardeners mistake the start of their growing season for a deadline. They think they have to buy all of their plants at one time and install them all in one exhausting weekend. Give yourself a break and do the work little by little.  You can correct mistakes. If some of your plants didn’t get as tall as you expected they would, you can choose an even taller plant to add height to your garden. Or if a perennial …

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7 Ways to Speed up Your Compost

7 Ways to Speed up Your Compost You want to harvest your compost as quick as you can. Here are 7 ways to speed up the decomposition process. Balance carbon and nitrogen Balancing your high-carbon materials with high-nitrogen materials will speed up your compost bin. High-carbon materials tend to be brown and dry, such as dried leaves, straw and wood chips. High-nitrogen materials are green, such as grass clippings, or they’re colorful, such as fruit and vegetable peels. One item that doesn’t follow that rule is manure from horses and cows. Manure is brown, but it is a high-nitrogen material. The most efficient composting occurs with a carbon-to-nitrogen mix of about 20:1. That means that you want about 20 times more dried leaves (by volume) than fruit peels. A chart from Cornell Waste Management Institute shows some carbon-to-nitrogen ratios for typical materials, based on dry weight. The ratios with a small first number are high-nitrogen materials and the ratios with a large first number are high-carbon materials. (Note that some of these materials have a range for their content.) Here are the carbon-to-nitrogen ratios for some typical materials: Poultry manure, from 3:1 to 15:1 Cow manure, 20:1 Horse manure, from 20:1 to 50:1 Food waste, about 15:1 Fresh grass clippings, 15:1 Sun-dried grass clippings, 20:1 Oak leaves, 40:1 to 80:1 Straw, 50:1 to 150:1 Sawdust, 200:1 to 750:1 Newsprint, 400:1 to 850:1 Corrugated cardboard, about 560:1 Maintain moisture The microbes in your compost bin need water, but not too much …

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Should You use Compost or Fertilizer?

  Should you use compost or fertilizer? If you use compost in your garden beds, you may not have to use chemical fertilizer at all. Adding synthetic fertilizer if it’s needed can be helpful, but when it’s not needed, it can be bad for your plants and for the environment. Don’t guess—test to see whether you need fertilizer. Problems with synthetic fertilizer Using too much fertilizer can actually damage your plants. Fertilizer burn disrupts water uptake by the roots and will show up as brown spots on the leaves. Too much fertilizer can also damage the environment. Fertilizer can be washed out of the soil by rain and get into nearby waterways, polluting the water. This stormwater pollution can make beaches unsafe for swimming, threaten the quality of drinking water, kill fish and other wildlife and make fish unsafe to eat. In addition, the production of nitrogen for synthetic fertilizers uses lots of natural gas, which can contribute to climate change. Why you should test If your soil lacks certain nutrients, using a fertilizer can help it. If your soil doesn’t need fertilizer, adding a fertilizer can make your garden worse. Soil test kits are inexpensive, fast and easy. You can test for nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) with the Rapitest Soil Test Kit here. The Rapitest also tests for pH levels, telling you whether your soil is acidic or alkaline. The kit includes instructions on how to amend your soil, if needed. How compost can help Compost …

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What You Should Put into Your Compost

To reap a harvest of rich compost for your gardens, make sure you add the right ingredients to your compost bin—and keep the wrong ingredients out. Good ingredients for your compost bin: Peels from potatoes, carrots, onions, bananas, oranges and other fruits and vegetables. Apple cores, stems, inedible leaves and other parts of fruits and vegetables. Corn cobs and pumpkin shells. Because of their size and thickness, these take longer to break down than vegetable peels or apple cores do. Snapping the corn cobs in half and cutting up the pumpkin shell speeds up the process. Egg shells. Coffee grounds and filters. Yes, you can throw the filter into your compost, too. Tea bags. Whether you can compost tea bags depends on the brand. With some brands, the bag break down nicely. You will never see the bag, cardboard tag or string again. However, bags from other brands don’t break down as easily. You shouldn’t be able to find the tea bags six months or a year after you have added them to your compost. Garden waste, such as wilted flowers, grass clippings and houseplants. However, don’t add any plant that may be diseased. Autumn leaves. Shred the leaves or run over them with your lawn mower. If you’re using a lawn mower, spread the leaves on a driveway. If you mow the leaves on your lawn, it will be difficult to rake up the chopped bits of leaves. Kitchen paper, such as used cupcake holders, used wax paper, used …

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Get Rid of Dog Poop with a Pet Waste Composter

Did you know that you can actually compost your dog waste and cat litter? It’s not difficult, but you have to use a special composter that extends below the surface of the soil. You can make a pet waste composter yourself or buy a Pet Poo Worm Farm. Whether you make your own pet waste composter or buy one, there is no smell. And the decomposed pet waste and other material you add to your composter will improve the soil below the surface. Why you need a pet waste composter You shouldn’t mix dog droppings or cat litter into your regular compost. Pet waste can contain harmful pathogens, but your home compost doesn’t get hot enough to kill those harmful organisms. Compost that is contaminated with pet waste could spread pathogens to lettuce and other food plants in your garden. Eating that food could make you sick. Picking up pet waste with a plastic bag and throwing the bag into your garbage isn’t a good option, either. Most trash ends up in landfills, and landfills can pollute the surrounding soil, air and water. You could just leave dog waste on your lawn, but that will ruin the grass. Plus, no one wants to step in poo! How a dog poop composter is different from regular composters The goal of each composter is different. With a regular composter, gardeners are trying to make plenty of compost that they can spread on top of their vegetable beds and flower beds. The aim …

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On Earth Day, Help Environment by Composting

Earth Day, observed on April 22, is a great time to take action to help our environment. One single action—composting—can benefit the environment in multiple ways. Rebuild soil health   In order to grow abundant fruits, vegetables and flowers, your garden needs soil that is healthy enough to support those plants. Soil isn’t just “dirt.”  It is composed of minerals and contains water and air. Another important ingredient is organic matter such as compost. Adding compost to soil improves the soil structure. That benefits the living things in the soil, including earthworms and insects, as well as microbes such as mycorrhizae, a beneficial fungus that plants need in order to grow well. Prevent water pollution Compost can improve the physical characteristics of the soil, which helps the soil retain water. A large cause of water pollution is stormwater runoff—rain and snowmelt that does not soak into the ground. The runoff flows over land or impervious surfaces, such as paved streets, parking lots and building rooftops. Runoff can pick up and deposit harmful pollutants such as trash, chemicals, dirt and sediment into streams and lakes, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Adding compost to your soil helps reduce stormwater runoff because compost can hold five times its weight in water, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Compost also serves as a filter and a sponge. It degrades pollutants, improving water quality. Keep food scraps out of landfills Landfills can pollute the surrounding soil, air and water. About 146.1 million tons …

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Attract Birds to Your Feeder with Mealworms

Mealworms in your bird feeder make a handy snack for wild birds who need plenty of fuel for flying, breeding and just staying warm. A bird can require up to a whopping 10,000 calories a day, according to the National Wildlife Federation. That’s equivalent to a human consuming 155,000 calories a day! Birds don’t have time for empty calories; they need foods with high nutritional content. Mealworms are a great supplemental food for birds because they pack a good amount of protein and fat, which are important parts of their diet. Adults also feed these high-quality foods to their growing babies. You may think that mealworms are a treat just for bluebirds, but many other birds like them, too. Birds that you might be able to attract to your feeder with mealworms include: American Robin Blackbirds Cardinals Chickadees Finches Grackles Nuthatches Orioles Sparrows Tufted titmouse Warblers Wrens Woodpeckers   Mealworms aren’t worms; they’re more like caterpillars. Caterpillars are the larvae of butterflies and mealworms are the larvae of a species of darkling beetle. There are two ways to get mealworms: live or dried. Live Mealworms Birds prefer live mealworms over dried mealworms. Live mealworms require some care, but it’s easy. For the mealworms’ home, get a plastic container about the size of a shoebox. Punch very small air holes in the lid. For food, add some wheat bran, small slices of potato and orange rind. Make sure there is plenty of room between your mealworms and lid to discourage escapes. …

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Onions Can Be Started From Seed—in Winter!

Even if you have snow on the ground, you can do some gardening: Plant seeds inside for cool weather vegetables, such as onions. Working with cool weather vegetables such as onions not only gives you something to do during winter, it gives you a head start on spring planting. As the name implies, cool weather vegetables can withstand cool temperatures—much cooler than tender vegetables, such as tomatoes and peppers, can tolerate. That allows your onion seedlings to be planted outside when the air and soil temperatures are just 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Tender plants, such as tomatoes and peppers, can’t be planted outside until the air temperature is at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit, even at night. Learn how to plant seeds inside in our previous article here. KINDS OF ONIONS We carry two different varieties of onion this year. ‘Siskiyou Sweet’ onion is very mild and sweet. You can eat the green tops as if they were scallions. The ‘New York Early’ onion stores well. It’s sweet, but with more bite than ‘Siskiyou Sweet’. See all the seeds we offer here.   TRANSPLANTING OUTSIDE A week before you plan to transplant your seedlings outside, start to harden off your seedlings. Put them outside for a short period to get them used to brighter light and cooler temperatures than you have inside your house. Each day, place them outside for a longer period so that when you transplant them, they aren’t shocked. Make sure conditions are suitable before you transplant seedlings outside. In …

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Maximize Your Output with ‘Hybrid Composting’

Most gardeners use one of two kinds of composting: cold composting or vermicomposting. But there’s no reason you can’t combine the two. What we call “hybrid composting” can increase the amount of compost you produce and speed up the process, too. Types of composting Vermicomposting uses worms to break down plant matter and food scraps quickly. You can get finished compost in just a few months.  Cold composting is usually done outside with a compost bin or compost pile. The system relies mainly on microorganisms to break down plant matter and food scraps. Cold composting can take six months to a year to produce usable compost.  In a hybrid composting system, you add worms to your cold composting bin. Advantages of using worms in compost bin More room to create compost. Vermicomposters are small, so you are limited in the amount of material you can compost. If you have large bags of autumn leaves that you want to compost, you’ll need to turn to cold composting in an outdoor bin. An outdoor compost bin will also provide more room for kitchen scraps such as carrot peels and coffee grounds. Note: Don’t use spinner composters with worms.  Speed up the process. Instead of relying on just microbes to break down the plant matter, the worms will be doing their part, too, by eating food scraps and yard waste. How to start hybrid composting Layer your materials in your compost bin. Put the freshest, least composted materials on the bottom. These materials …

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